Stargazing: Moon Landing Special, review: Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain on the mindboggling ingenuity of man

Jasper Rees
Professor Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain in front of a Saturn V rocket - WARNING: Use of this copyright image is subject to the terms of use of BBC Pictures' Digital Picture Service (BBC Pictures) as set out at www.bbcpictures.co.uk. In particular, this image may only be published by a registered User of BBC Pictures for editorial use for the purpose of publicising the relevant BBC programme, personnel or activity during the Publicity Period which ends three review weeks following the date of transmission and provided the BBC and the copyright holder in the caption are credited. For any other purpose whatsoever, including advertising and commercial, prior written approval from the copyright holder will be required.

You can’t move for the moon at the moment, it being half a century since Neil Armstrong’s giant leap for mankind. It was with some inevitability that Brian Cox and Dara Ó Briain would head along to the celebrations. From the Kennedy Space Centre, the Stan and Ollie of space programming presented Stargazing: Moon Landing Special (BBC Two).  When it comes to enthusiasm for the stratosphere, with these two the sky’s the limit.

Ó Briain specialises in rocket-propelled cheerleading while wide-eyed Cox thrusts his hands in his pockets as if to assist gravity in keeping him just about grounded. There was a lot to get excited about in Cape Canaveral, in the shape of supersize hardware and top-of-the-range simulation gizmos. With fanfares and admiring gushes we were introduced to the Starliner, the Atlas 5 rocket, the Argos – not the retail outlet, but an active response gravity offload system. There was so much roadtesting, in essence this was Top Gear goes to infinity and beyond.

The audience, one tends to suppose, may well have been predominantly male, but the programme laudably hedged against that possibility by laying on interviews with astronaut Sunita Williams and planetary scientist Dr Elizabeth Turtle, while team regular Dr Hannah Fry flew to Houston to drive a big buggy while pregnant. This was no boys’ own zone.

Technically the title was a misnomer. The feature-length, magazine-format yomp around the past and future of space travel apportioned sections to Mars and Saturn’s moon Titan. But our moon was the star turn, and the big interview was with Charlie Duke, who was the only voice Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin could hear when they landed on the moon and three years later went there himself. He drolly advised that Apollo 11 had less computing power than a mobile phone. Next time we go to the moon, we’ll take 3D printers to fashion everything we need from locally sourced rock.

You finished this primer slack-jawed in awe at the mindboggling ingenuity of man. And yet astronauts are still superstitious enough to urinate on the wheel of the vehicle that ferries them to the launchpad. They didn’t say what female astronauts do.